When Veterans Affairs Peer Support Specialist James Cherry received a phone call from a veteran he helped before, he knew he had to answer it.
“Arlesa called me and just told me she knew there were people she and her team of St. Vincent de Paul, (SVdP), volunteers could help,” James said. “She told me if there were any veterans in need, I had to send them to her team in El Sobrante. And the team at SVdP has been a blessing, a true blessing. Lots of places had to shut their doors during the pandemic, but the St. Vincent de Paul team at St. Callistus in El Sobrante never stopped.”
The call came from Arlesa Miles, a US Army Veteran who now volunteers at the St. Vincent de Paul of Contra Costa County branch in El Sobrante at St. Callistus Catholic Church. Arlesa and her fellow volunteers, known as Vincentians, dedicate their time to helping their neighbors in need with food, clothing, furniture, and even receiving free medical and dental care.
One such veteran is US Army Veteran Calvin Brown.
James Cherry said, “Calvin is a great guy, with a beautiful young family. It’s always heart-breaking to see a such a stand-up young man who served his country struggle.”
A father of two with a third child on the way, Calvin found himself struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns. Calvin said between his work in the construction industry becoming unstable, his children having to attend virtual school, and the stress of having another child on the way during such a hard time nearly broke him.
“When COVID happened, it hit the construction industry hard. Suddenly, there were just no jobs and when you did get a job you never really knew if an outbreak would shut the site down,” Calvin said. “It’s been a struggle, but the food I’ve been getting from SVdP at St. Callistus has been a huge help. The help I’ve received has ensured my children and family don’t go hungry. It has allowed us to stretch our budget until I’m able to get our family back on solid ground financially. I’ll always be grateful for that.”
Calvin said finding work that pays enough for him to provide for his family has been hard. He said his fiancée has not been able to work, not only because of her pregnancy, but also because she is caring for two young children at home due to day care and school closures.
“When the construction industry became too unstable to really rely on for steady work, I started looking elsewhere,” Calvin said. “But a lot of places weren’t offering or couldn’t offer the sort of pay and hours you need to provide for a family.”
One of five children being raised by a single mother, Calvin entered the military when his dreams of getting a college scholarship for basketball failed to come true.
“Growing up in Georgia to a single mother raising 5 kids, there just wasn’t a lot of opportunity to better oneself,” Calvin said. “The only real option I felt was viable for me was the military.”
Calvin left the military in 2014 and moved to the Bay Area, and found work as a basketball coach, a job he said he enjoyed because it felt good to be serving his community. Calvin said due to budget cuts, the basketball program close, and Calvin lost his job.
“I worked as a basketball coach for an after-school program,” Calvin said. “It was a great job, and it felt great to be helping kids in the community, but when budget cuts closed the program I lost my job.”
Calvin said he spent time living in his car, before managing to find work in construction thanks to a contact from his church. He said things were really turning around until COVID-19 knocked him down once more. Not one to ever stay down, Calvin recently found work at his church in Oakland as a maintenance man, and said it pays enough to help him provide for his growing family.
“I’m getting married on Friday, November 5th, and it just feels so surreal to have things finally look like they’re turning around,” Calvin said. “The help I’ve received from SVdP and from volunteers has meant so much to me and my family. That so many kind people care enough to help others is humbling.”